Readings: Luke 15:1-3; 11b-32
I don’t really like it when preachers quote long definitions but I couldn’t help it today:
Prodigal ˈprɒdɪɡ(ə)l/ adjective – spending money or using resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant. “prodigal habits die hard” synonyms: wasteful, extravagant, spendthrift, improvident, imprudent, immoderate, profligate, thriftless, excessive, intemperate, irresponsible, self-indulgent, reckless, wanton
In some interesting research, Mark Powell asks the question of certain contexts. North America, Russia, and Africa: why did the Prodigal Son end up where he did?
- The answer from Russia? Famine.
- The opinion from Africa? Nobody helped him.
- And North America? He squandered his living.
(Perspective matter. Mark Allan Powel, What Do They Hear? Bridging the Gap Between Pulpit and Pew.)
If you insist on calling this lost son “prodigal” then it may well be that you are more American than you think.
Like the titles in the NIV pew bible (which I’d rather you not read out by the way – because they were never there) – when we label something we pre-determine meaning.
Yes – this son spent his money on the wrong things. But extravagance is actually a characteristic of God. In creation, in salvation, in grace and love for us.
In case you think I’m losing the plot here – think back on last week, Isaiah 55.
I know I didn’t say anything about it, but it really was the backdrop to the repentance we were talking about. It’s not just what we turn away from when we change direction. Or like this son when we come to our senses. It’s whom we turn back to.
This son turns back to a generous father who throws a banquet and blesses him beyond what he deserved.Next week we will look at more extravagance in the passionate expression of a woman’s gratitude to Jesus.
So back to Isaiah 55. Listen again:
Isa 55:1 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Isa 55:2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
The gospel in the Old Testament. Grace. And doesn’t your heart sing for joy when you hear these words:
Isa 55:10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, Isa 55:11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Isa 55:12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
The younger brother could have wasted his money in generosity to others. Instead he went on a quest to find himself and life’s purpose. He only found both when he had nothing.
Like our idea about survivor’s arrogance last week – we are in danger when we think that we have been successful (not unemployed, sick or in prison) because we are better or more deserving. We often only get it when we have lost it all – when we are empty-handed.
The older brother in the meantime had everything. And saw none of it. He focused only on being grumpy. There was no attitude of gratitude. After ranting and raving because of the extravagance of his dad towards his brother, dad simply says this:
Luk 15:31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. Luk 15:32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
We had to celebrate. It’s what I call the party imperative.
- He was lost and is found.
- He came home, basically. Like that little girl in the paper this week.
And as a last thought? I wonder if the older brother eventually came home too?